A SSE student explains his project

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I travelled to the UK in March/April to learn more about the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE)—an action-based learning opportunity that a group of organizations is bringing to Ontario (SSE-O). In my last post, I covered the SSE’s social franchise model and described its approach to supporting the development of both the social entrepreneur and their project. Here, I’ll cover the SSE’s pedagogical approach.

Witness learning: modelling successful entrepreneurial behaviour

The SSE is truly unique in its practitioner-to-practitioner approach. While many business courses and programs invite professionals into the classroom to provide “real-life” perspectives to young students, the SSE facilitates this type of opportunity differently:

  • by ensuring that the students are themselves practitioners and currently pursuing a community project; and
  • through witness sessions and other activities, social enterprise practitioners model successful entrepreneurial behaviour through storytelling rather than teaching a specific lesson.

My UK visit started in the port town of Ipswich, where SSE Suffolk ushered in its first student cohort about four months ago. I met the dynamic team who developed and currently deliver the SSE program to local social entrepreneurs (entrepreneurs who are working on everything from providing communications services to non-profits to bringing music into classrooms to integrating accessible community healthcare).

At SSE Suffolk, I took part in one of the school’s classroom days, which included an inspiring witness session with Jim Overbury, CEO of Housing Action.  Jim spoke to the class about his own experiences and personal challenges, with a focus on governance. His honest and uncensored storytelling was a compelling representation of the modelling approach employed by the SSE.

After hearing from an experienced hand, the Suffolk students explored their own organizational challenges around the theme of governance. The afternoon’s activities included peer-to-peer (P2P) learning and time for individual reflection—something most students identified as lacking in their day-to-day work.

Action-based learning: action, reflection, insight and more action

The action-based learning employed by the SSE includes witness sessions like Jim’s, where successful social entrepreneurs tell their stories and model both good (successful) and poor (unsuccessful) behaviours to students. Through this process, students are exposed to success stories and inspired to persevere in their own work, but they also learn how to admit failure. Moreover, by being exposed to new and different leadership techniques and entrepreneurial approaches, students are given new information to reflect upon.

The action learning cycle involves:

  • action
  • recollection and reflection
  • insights
  • undertaking the next action

For social entrepreneurs, this methodology works well. The just-in-time SSE learning style means that while students are pursuing their own projects, they are also given opportunities to try new approaches, as well as time to step back and evaluate the success of their decisions. Because so much of being an entrepreneur is about being effective in how you behave, this action learning approach is essential. Successful behaviour is not something that can be learned from a PowerPoint presentation—it’s something learned by seeing and doing.

SSE’s action-based learning is delivered via group sessions with expert witnesses, project visits, individual tutoring, mentoring, action-learning sets (peer or group problem-solving sessions), a fellowship network and staff support. Find out more about these program components here.

The SSE + MaRS: the same, but different

The SSE learning approach incorporates many of the elements we use in the entrepreneurship educational programs at MaRS.

Learning from witnesses happens in Entrepreneurship 101 Lived it Lectures. Our advisors work with individual clients to support them and the establishment of their ventures. We offer peer-to-peer learning opportunities in Entrepreneurship 201 and other workshops series. This pedagogical approach is consistent with MaRS’ offerings – entrepreneurs are doers; they learn as they go.

The SSE also provides significantly different offerings that compliment existing entrepreneurship programs in Ontario. The SSE program:

  • supports the development of both the individual and their venture,
  • is designed to accommodate a unique group of entrepreneurs from atypical backgrounds, and
  • happens over a longer time period and in a smaller cohort setting, ensuring SSE students are well-supported throughout the start-up phase of their venture.

These distinct elements contribute significantly to the excellent track record of the SSE.

The SSE in Ontaio

The School for Social Entrepreneurs is an innovative education program that provides hands-on training and guidance to entrepreneurs that are attempting to launch their own social ventures.  While formal education programs and short-term advisory support and seminars are essential to developing Ontario’s community of social entrepreneurs, the SSE-O will provide unique and essential support to its future students—and significantly contribute to the growth of the social entrepreneurship community in Ontario.

Follow the SSE-O Collaborative as we embark on this new and inspiring journey.

Check out this great video on the SSE program from the perspective of its Fellows:

Also, the most current SSE Network Evaluation has just been released. You can also check out their last evaluation (1997-2007) here and check out the MASS LBP Ontario Feasibility Study here.

Hadley Nelles

Hadley works on the social innovation program at MaRS, helping social innovators and entrepreneurs connect with support services to turn their ideas into action. See more…